Pianos: Pins, pitch and PPE.

Piano tuning pins have a 'dummy' thread, a scored section that goes into the cross-laminated hardwood pin block. They do screw 'in' and 'out' but not in the manner that a screw enters a threaded hole.

Tuning pins are driven in during installation. The 'dummy' thread is scored onto the pins in such a way that they grip more one way than the other, sharks' teeth-style.

Tuning pins come in boxes (or smaller lots, bagged). These pins are not new, they have been removed from that piano. There are 220 pins in a box, weighing 4.2kg.

Piano tuners receive lots of notes. It is helpful. To us every note on the piano might sound like shit and be out of mechanical regulation, so it is useful to know which ones are bothering the client (if you can't meet face-to-face at the piano). "Will tune next year" is another oft-trotted-out trope in the tuner's world. It is false economy to delay tuning until it bothers the cloth ear.

A bloody long list from a precocious and ambitious young lass. Something that 'rings' is generally a damper problem. 'Bottom' this and 'top' that is not always clear (but it usually is). The term "Super bottom B" amused. At least it's unambiguous. Have the Mario Brothers developed a music system? That barely makes sense. Just don't google 'super bottom'.

Desirable ways to identify notes are:

1. Scientific pitch notation.The octave starting on Middle C is Octave 4. 

2. Keystick numbering. It's very piano factory and will not be a client's natural choice. But I like to honour its existence because it's quaint and functional. So listen up, readers. The lowest note is 1 and the highest (on most pianos) is 88. One had better not miscount. Note names are obviously worth including. Thus it's better to consider the usual piano range as being from A1 to C88. Middle C is C40.

Other notation systems may lead to confusion. Who could forget the client who misused Helmholtz pitch notation and had her obedient piano doctors obsessing over a note that didn't bother the client in the slightest? Not us. I don't recommend Helmholtz even for the few folk who know the ins and outs of apostrophes. Too risky.

Nothing beats labelling the notes themselves. It's all 'good'...

...erm, perhaps. I convinced the client to move this struggling piano to a more piano-friendly micro-climate within the house.

A music teacher wishes for a much more esteemed piano. Improvements were made with a combination of voicing the hammers, and twisting* the bass strings, which is not for the faint-hearted.

It's enough to give me an existensial (sic) crisis. It appears that one staff member at this eatery may have corrected the signwriting of another.

It's a fine time to pick up a takeaway container full of apostrophes. Otherwise this cafe owner's family will be eating their words for dinner.

On the home front I received this note from the next door neighbours.

It was a reasonable and charitable gesture.

The shrill piercing whines wore me down. I have sensitive ears. It was a little better when this puppy reached puberty and her voice broke. Queen of PPE** that's me.

I spied this sign in Lithgow. Should I have made one just like it to put up next door?

I have sensitive ears. When tuning I wear these. It is (perhaps to some) surprising to learn that naked pianos can be loud, and one cannot play in a wussy way to tune. If you do this all day every day (like so many sound-laden pursuits) you may suffer some form of hearing loss eventually.

I've secured the door with earmuffs so it will stay open while we get the piano tilter up the stairs and into the good room. But I thought the walls had ears, Cazzbo.

That's right, Queen of PPE, that's me. This photo turned up on Farcebook. I had no idea it existed. I was ahead of my time insisting on wearing a duck floaty while sitting in the bucket of an earth-moving machine. My sister sits to my left, unprotected. Is it because she is only second in line to the Throne? The neighbour kids at least have sun protection.

A good dog is one that is silent and pays me no attention. Barking from behind a front door sees me reaching for my earplugs before I've even met the client or entered the house. It seems weird to be wearing earplugs before I've rung the doorbell, but I have done it. At least I've not worn a duck floaty (in recent times).

My billet house at Woodford Folk Festival had a "loving family dog" which was always muzzled in my presence. I reasoned that their description must have meant that the dog hated all non-family members. I never entered the back verandah and took this photo through the rear window. If they felt a muzzle was necessary, then so did I. It was not in my 'rider' as a performer to see all pooches muzzled, but perhaps it should be.

Apostrophe-spotting aside, this note amused. It was in a theatre where I tuned.

OK, which one of you munchkins has been smoking the Master's cigars?

Behold, twitchers, a naked woodpecker. I've discussed 'exploded hammers' where the felt covering bursts off the wooden core. It usually happens in bass hammers which are bigger and fatter, meaning the felt wrap is held on under more tension, just waiting to spring off if the piano is neglected, aged or subject to too many weather variations. You know a piano in strife when it's happening in the upper treble. The hammer I have pushed forward has lost its felt entirely.

Is this aged care facility run by the Mario Brothers? Mmmm, it all sounds delicious. Fortunately I know just enough to realise that here we're talking 'first floor' and so on. I need not hunt on every level for my intended prey, indeed, a piano.

Marge learns that 'vendetta' means 'vendetta'.

The keypad instructions to exit the same facility. It made me wonder. Could a resident have a moment of uncharacteristic lucidity and solve the puzzle? Retro-grade retrograde.

Old Newtown town.

The internet has far too few cats. I learn that this client's cat's cut is called the 'lion cut'.

Look at that tail.

A note-naming no-no. Retrograde studies aside, this treatment of any piano is beyond irksome. It's also a terrible way to learn your notes (or should I say an excellent way NOT to learn your notes). That's not how you finger contrary-motion scales. I don't care if you're a budding Xenakis with a penchant for musical Sudoku, this is not on. Not. On. Xenakis would never have discriminated against the blacks.

Notice that the right (sustain) pedal is turned inward a bit. Pigeon-toed. There was a lot of lateral movement there.

Fortunately I was able to tighten the screws that held the assembly to the floor of the piano.

Remember, there's always Plan B, a toasty wippen fire.

* When copper-wound bass strings are installed they are twisted in the direction which will 'tighten' the winding (or wrap). How many twists (half a turn, one, or one-and-a-half) will depend on the gauge of the string. Lacklustre bass strings can sometimes be livened up and given more chance to project with an extra half- or full-twist. In a frail piano with old strings the required de-tensioning and then bringing back up to pitch risks string breakage. Still, twisting is (at times) a worthy option.

** Personal protective equipment.

Pianos: Getting Hitched

The Caped Regulators: Pianos, high and low.

Pianos: Under the weather

The Piano Team: Strings, scrubs pants and fireplace fodder.

Goanna Roundup

Pianos: The Colour Purple

Pianos: Things that go 'clunk' in the night

Pianos: House and Garden Varieties

Pianos: Coffee, art and coffee art.

Pianos: The Clunker Chronicles

Domestic(ated) pianos, a homely homily

Smog the mog (cats, pianos)


Pianos: Behind the Candelabra

Needling piano hammers is called voicing. It is tonal adjustment. If you think your regularly-used piano sounds the same as it did ten years ago, you're wrong. Aside from tuning changes (which we hope are regularly addressed) the piano's timbre changes as hammer felts compress and the once-focused point at which the noses strike the strings broadens out and develops string grooves. Very worn hammers are often reshaped (filed and sanded to restore their profile) before voicing, but I should only touch one strand of nerdery at a time. 

The shoulders of the hammers are needled, sometimes up near (but not on) the strike point (the tip of the nose that hits the strings). Brand new hammers (above) require Dexter levels of stabby-stabby. These hammers are off the piano and held by their shanks in a jig. Stabilising and supporting the hammers while needling is critical. If you look closely you can see the fresh tri-needle marks.

When we were in piano school we dubbed this voicing tool 'the blood-letter' (and its upright version 'the baby blood-letter'). One does get the hang of being an accurate human sewing machine but no one could say they haven't drawn blood. Sydney Swans colours aside, there's no place for my O-positive here.

Can Mrs Marple can have a crack at solving the mystery that is this piano's serial number? S stands for scungy. So, erm, should we wind the odometer forward - or backward?

Here's the same piano in all its verdant glory.

What Gough-forsaken heckhole of a joint has this piano called home? I know the answer. I demand the cone of silence if I'm to elaborate. The preparation of this frame for repainting will be a bigger-than-wished-for job. 

Frame spraying. Many coats and a scarf. 

Another piano's mystery scrawl. Poirot? Clouseau? Maxwell Smart?

Behold, a couple of 'exploded hammers'. Hammer felt is wrapped around the wooden core of the hammer. It is held under high tension with glue and staples. Age and weather can mean they spring off. Glueing, clamping, trussing is the usual fix. New hammers would be the classy fix. Some piano manufacturers' staples barely enter the wooden core, they're all but cosmetic. One must never discuss exploding hammers at airports.

But cast your eye above the hammer line at the frayed fluffy felt piece. Has it been mauled once too often by some suspicious cul-de-sac curtain-twitcher?

In the piano world we call this curtain the celeste rail. It is sometimes called the muffler or muffler rail. I will often use that term for clarity, it is what it does. Its function is to be lowered (via a pedal or lever) between the strings and the hammers. The hammers then strike the strings through the curtain and volume is reduced to I'm-compelled-to-compose-lullabies-at-midnight levels.

'Muffler, mute' but (ideally) not 'damper' nor 'dampener'. The damper system is a separate device within the piano. It's no matter if these terms mingle as a client describes their issue, we'll be together staring 'under the hood' soon enough.

This celeste rail felt has been worn out by its intended use. The client is self-conscious, has complainy neighbours, or both. The felt is regularly replaced.

Master woodworker Superhero Tech crafted this celeste rail for a client who insisted the wood be milled from the Faraway Tree and the curtains woven from unicorn mane. Upright hammer shanks are wonderful dowels. It's a triumph.

She also insisted it be pedal operated. That required some geometric jiggery-pokery. I think I would have told this client to put a sock in it.

Harrods. I like their bank. It was the only bank in London that would honour my emergency credit card when my backpack was snatched many years ago. They paid me in upright pianos. Pound for pound, pianos are heavy.

It can be a challenge to do repair work in cramped, cluttered doily-dotted domestic piano rooms. Here I create a nice bushing cloth lining for a very old-fashioned celeste rail fitting. Glue is applied to a new cloth piece with a toothpick, my girly methods. Oops, I'm using my own business card. The great tradition is to use someone else's.

Above my workstation you will notice my partner's abacuses. They hold paper and cardboard key punchings (washers) used to regulate piano keyboards, adjusting key height and key depth.

My cloth bushing repair. It's an oversized version of almost every axle joint in almost every piano. Wherever there is friction involved, finely-woven cloth is used (or kid leather). Many modern manufacturers skimp on the quality of this cloth, resulting in pianos whose cloth bushings have worn excessively and unevenly in no time at all. The quality stuff lasts for decades, the imposter low-end crap shows wear before the piano has left the warehouse. Putting the wear in ware, eh?

Superhero Tech's abacuses in use. At first I thought they were absurd, but I have just-more-than-lukewarmed to them. They're winning me over. Perhaps they do trump the more commonly-deployed little divided fishing tackle boxes and other containers (my current methods).

The Brinsmead. Pass me my candles, Barbara. Replicas of these fittings are available from piano parts suppliers if you seek to recreate this look. But avoid the wax, Max.

Candelabra at twenty paces. On a rare night off on tour I indulge in a movie on the fancy hotel room goggle box. Behind the Candelabra. My snap of the TV that night is a result of the real-time reportage that smartphones have made commonplace.

'By Royal Warrants of appointment to His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen'. The warrants sound a bit scary, but the rest is a veritable fairy tale. A magical world where all kings and queens are together (except the many fairy tales where they are not). Still, I can remember my father guffawing when a young me asked if Prince Philip was the King. That's when I learned that real life ain't no fairy tale.   

The Brinsmead is a straight-strung piano. All strings are vertical and it has just one long bridge. This means it sounds especially insipid in the low tenor and all of the bass. The angles of a cross-strung piano (which has two, occasionally three, bridges) enable greater string length where it is needed. Quaint and obsolete, yet still going in a knee-rug-and-cup-of-tea kind of way. I'll take care not to infer the same of the client.

Here's a sensible thing, a bit of breathing room between the piano and the wall. This helps the piano to sound better and ensures that the lid can be fully opened. Folk treat their uprights like laneway lovers, ramming them hard up against the wall, compromising sound and resonance. It barely matters in most circumstances, but it is a pain in the arse if a piano technician cannot fully open the lid of a piano (if it collides with the wall or an artwork). Sometimes a piano's position might mean the lid has to be removed entirely, this is an additional inconvenience.

I've calculated a bear's-width as 12,529 bees' dicks...

...and in metric. It is a huge inconvenience (if not danger) to have to move a piano just to service it.

Ideally no one should be forced to move a piano to gain basic access. My partner in piano pampering is much more likely to move a piano (he does it often) whereas I am more likely to try to find a way to secure and stabilise a lid in a non-optimum position. Neither approach is much chop. Usually small tweaks could be made that would mean no moving was needed, but more often the piano is required to be returned to a quarter past ridiculous.

A Newtown laneway. Oooh, does that say 'Brawny'? I can't decypher the second word despite my new multi-focals, but I normally can't read these words at all.

The upper bass register in the straight-strung Brinsmead. Three copper-wound tri-chord notes with flat dampers. Flat dampers work well in the mid-to-upper treble where the frequency is higher and the strings' vibrations are smaller. As we progress downwards dampers gradually transition from simple flat rectangular block pads to 'split-V' shapes which nuzzle in between the three strings. In the mid-to-low range, silencing the strings is more like stopping a truck than stopping a car. Don't hold out hope of a crisp staccato.

The one thing we know about Winifred Atwell's 'other piano' is that it, too, is straight-strung. Spied at my local op shop and snapped. All the fun of sharing it without accumulating an object I do not need.

Underneath the Brinsmead's keys, the cloth punchings had a few cartoon eyeballs amid the fray. 

Here are my own handmade punchings from another job. Quality control dictates that any punching that looks just a little too much like a Simpsons eyeball should be rejected.

The light and clamp proved a good combo to chock this piano's lid up to prevent it falling. It's not possible get the lid vertical or beyond without moving the piano, or the artwork. I'd consider moving the artwork, or the piano, but if I can feasibly find an alternative to a piano move, I will.

Somehow this piano's bulbous monstrosity of a lid was made to perch safely.

Speaking of bulbous, behold a rare apostrophe in full bloom.

Enjoy some other hand-crafted bloggy bits...